‘Journey’ leads to another title game for St. Johns Country Day girls soccer team

Spartans go for record-upping 12th consecutive title on Wednesday

St. Johns Country Day girls soccer players listen to coach Mike Pickett before a practice on Feb. 21. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The dynasty has shown no signs of slowing down. But Mike Pickett does his best to get one point across.

Enjoy the journey.

The St. Johns Country Day girls soccer team has won 11 consecutive state championships, the longest streak in state history and one of the longest in all team sports in Florida. The Spartans have clobbered all four playoff opponents in 8-0, mercy rule blowouts.

Pickett, recognized this season by MaxPreps as the top girls soccer coach in the country, said games are never as easy as they might appear. Sure, beating teams a combined 32-0 in four postseason games is nice but the Spartans always draw a worthy opponent in the final.

Lakeland Christian (20-2-2) is that challenger this season and was expected to be the opponent once the Vikings dropped down in classification this year. And it’s a steep, steep assignment for the Spartans on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand.

They won back-to-back Class 3A championships and have rolled through a brutal schedule with ease. Lakeland Christian’s only losses are to Bartram Trail and Ponte Vedra, the Nos. 1 and 11 teams in the country, respectively.

“They’re definitely the veteran team coming in. And for once, I wouldn’t say we are the favorite,” Pickett said. “We may be ranked 1 and they’re 2, but you look at it on paper they’re a very talented team and we’re going to have to play our best game.”

Pickett and Spartans players are well versed in the narrative that accompanies 11 consecutive state titles.

It must be easy. Except that’s not something that’s expressed publicly or privately.

Year after year, there’s zero overconfidence from Pickett or players. Midfielder Lauryn Mateo said that the St. Johns pipeline starts when players are in middle school and that the older players stress to younger ones that there’s a routine in carrying on that tradition. When those young players get their opportunity to contribute, it’s ingrained just what it takes to keep that goin

“It’s training and training and training. That’s a lot of it,” said Mateo, who is second on the team with 19 goals. “We’ve got to keep our practices high, just the intensity of our practices high and keep them going.”

Midfielder Avery Raimondo came to St. Johns last year and said the bond and chemistry was instant.

“It’s like everyone’s so close, and we’re just like out to help each other,” Raimondo said. “And no one’s there to hurt you. Everyone, even if you’re on the bench not playing, you’re there to like, better everyone around you. And if you’re on the field, you’re cheering for everyone.”

Pickett said that through the years of prolonged success at the program, he’s been blessed. And with that time comes wisdom and appreciation, something that he tries to stress to players throughout the process.

“It’s awesome man. It’s about the journey, not the result. If we get it, we get it. If we don’t, it’s not going to define this team or any of these kids, or, you know me as a coach. No result, no outcome of a game defines who you are. It’s what we do. And so it’s the journey that matters,” Pickett said. “Today’s trip down on the bus, dinner tonight. I don’t want to say it’s more important than the game, but it is. And when they get back together when they’re older, they’re not going to talk about the game. They’re going to talk about the bus rides and the hotel rooms and the stuff that they did along the journey for sure.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.